About Lidia Michols

U.S. Department of Education Takes a Strong Stance Against Bullying

The DOE Letter

On October 26, 2010, the United States Department of Education (“DOE”) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to Boards of Education throughout the United States (the “Letter”). The Letter addressed an ever-present and growing harmful trend in many schools: Bullying.

As outlined by the DOE, “[b]ullying fosters a climate of fear and disrespect that can seriously impair the physical and psychological health of its victims and create conditions that negatively affect learning, thereby undermining the ability of students to achieve their full potential.” This Letter comes in the wake of recent tragic reports of several young people taking their own lives as a result of repeated bullying and taunting for being (or being perceived as being) gay.

With this Letter, the DOE highlighted that bullying in schools or at school sponsored functions is never to be tolerated, and that a school district’s delay in taking immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred may result in the school district’s violation of the victim’s civil rights.  The effects of student-on-student harassment and bullying are severe, and include lower academic achievement; increased anxiety; low self-esteem; depression; deterioration of health; feelings of alienation; absenteeism; self-harm; and suicidal ideation.

Anti-Discrimination Statutes 

Within the DOE, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) enforces several different federal anti-discrimination statutes, including but not limited to, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”) ; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”); Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”); and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“Title II”).

While these statutes protect students from harassment by school employees, it also protects students from harassment by other students. Such conduct, when sufficiently serious, can create a hostile environment leading to negative consequences for the victims. Consequently, when peer bullying or harassment is based on race, color, national origin, sex or disability, a school district’s failure to act appropriately in preventing this type of conduct, could result  in the school district’s violation of the victim’s civil rights and lead to legal liability.[1]

The statutes enforced by OCR do not explicitly protect against religious discrimination.[2] However, many religious groups face discrimination based on “actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics,” which is protected under Title VI, and enforced by OCR. The same principle can be applied to those discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation.  While the statutes do not protect against discrimination based on sexual preference, they do protect against gender-based harassment, which includes sex and sex-stereotyping (i.e., failing to conform to the stereotypical notions of being a man). [3]

What is Harassment?

But what is harassment? And when does a school district’s action (or inaction) rise to the level of violating a student’s civil rights.  In the Letter, OCR defined harassment as including verbal acts and name calling; graphic and written statements  (which may include cell phones or internet use); or other conduct that may be psychically threatening, harmful, or humiliating.  As outlined by the Letter, school districts are responsible for incidents of harassment, when the school district knew or should have known that the harassment was occurring.

Responsibility of School Districts to End Harassment

The Letter also outlines the responsibility of school districts, which includes: 1) immediate action to investigate the incident; 2) if discriminatory harassment has occurred, the school must take steps calculated to end the harassment; 3) eliminate the hostile environment; and 4) prevent the harassment from recurring.

Further, the Letter discusses the appropriate steps that should be used to end harassment, including: 1) separating the accused harasser and the victim; 2) providing counseling for the victim and/or the harasser; 3) taking disciplinary action against the harasser; 4) ensuring students and their families know how to report any subsequent problems; 5) conducting follow-up inquiries; and 6) offering training to school personnel, students, and/or the community concerning discrimination and harassment.

In addition, the Letter stresses the importance of not penalizing the victim of the harassment. For example, if separation is required between the harasser and the victim, the school should not require the victim to change his/her class schedule.  Doing so would validate the harasser’s actions and/or create fear of reporting harassing behavior.  The Letter also emphasizes the significance of looking past the “label” (i.e., teasing or hazing) and rather encourages school districts and administrators to look at the nature of the conduct itself, as that will define the responsibilities of school districts.

Anti-Bullying Legislation

Over the past several years, many states have adopted anti-bullying laws, including Connecticut and New York. These laws set forth mandatory procedures a school is required to take upon notice of such incidents. However, a school’s responsibility does not begin and end with those procedures.  The school districts must ensure that its policies and procedures protect the victim’s civil rights.

President Obama recently established an Inter-agency Task Force on Bullying. In conjunction with that, the Obama administration hosted its first ever National Bullying Summit and launched the Stop Bullying Now campaign, the It Gets Better Project, and a national database of effective anti-bullying programs.   For more information on bullying, please review the following:

The Trevor Project

BullyingInfo.org

It Gets Better Project

If you are someone who has been a victim of bullying or harassment or know of someone who is being bullied or harassed, please speak up.  At Maya Murphy, P.C., we have decades of experience dealing with Education Law, harassment or bullying, Special Education Law, and discrimination– often in situations where they run concurrently.  We handle all types of issues, in a broad geographic area, which includes Westport, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, and the entire Fairfield County area.


[1] While this article addresses civil liability, it should be noted that bullying can have criminal implications for both the bully and his or her guardians.

[2] Other statutes, not enforced by OCR, protect against discrimination on the basis of religion.

[3] The DOE letter addresses laws enforced by OCR only. It does not address a school district’s legal obligation under other federal, state or local laws, which may impose additional obligations on schools.

State Presented Sufficient Evidence that Defendant “Intended to Convert the Property to His Use Without Paying For It”

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed the defendant’s conviction for sixth degree larceny, as he had the requisite intent to commit the crime.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on May 5, 2005. The defendant purchased a foam poster board from Staples in Fairfield, but as he was exiting the main store into the foyer, he was not carrying it. Instead, he was observed scooting a box with an item he did not pay for along the floor beneath the theft detection sensors located adjacent to the exit doors. The defendant scooped it up and proceeded outside, with store employees in pursuit. When one yelled at him to “drop the box,” the defendant placed it on a nearby dolly and quickly left the area. Inside the box was “a Uniden telephone, in its original packaging, that was offered for sale” at the store.

Another Staples customer observed the defendant getting into a vehicle and driving off. She informed the store manager, who wrote down the license plate and called police. Officers identified the owner as the defendant’s girlfriend and proceeded to her residence, where they located the car (which had signs of recent use) but not the defendant. Soon thereafter, the defendant turned himself in and provided police with a signed written statement in which he accepted responsibility for his actions.

The defendant was charged with larceny in the sixth degree by shoplifting, and for being a persistent larceny offender. At trial, the defendant testified that he came across the box inside the store and immediately returned it to a sales associate. He denied leaving the store with the box or having knowledge of its contents, and stated he never intended to leave the store without paying for it. The sales associate and store manager provided a much different version of the events. The jury returned a guilty verdict on the larceny count, and the defendant pled guilty to the second, resulting in three years’ incarceration. On appeal, the defendant contended that the State provided insufficient evidence that he had the requisite intent to commit larceny.

Under Connecticut General Statute (CGS) § 53a-119, “[a] person commits larceny when, with the intent to [permanently] deprive another of property or to appropriate the same to himself or a third person, he wrongfully takes, obtains, or withholds such property from an owner.” Larceny is considered a specific intent crime, so the State must provide direct or circumstantial evidence (most often the latter) that the defendant possessed a “subjective desire or knowledge that his actions constituted stealing” at the time of the crime.

In this case, the Appellate Court determined that the defendant confused sufficiency and credibility issues. He appeared to argue that all of the testimony was identical. However, this is an inaccurate reading of the trial court record, for there were vast discrepancies between the testimonies given by the defendant and State’s witnesses. It is the province of the jury to weigh the credibility of witness testimony and believe all of it, some of it, or none of it. Thus, the jury was within its right to credit the testimony of the State witnesses, and such testimony, along with the defendant’s written statement, provided sufficient evidence that the defendant intended to take the phone without paying for it.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

When faced with a charge of larceny, burglary, conspiracy, or attempt, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Defendant’s “Dastardly Overall Scheme of Personal Greed” Did Not Warrant Sentence Modification

In a previous article, the petitioner was convicted of arson in the first degree, larceny in the first degree, insurance fraud, and conspiracy after burning down his home and receiving nearly $400,000 from insurance payouts. For his crimes, he was sentenced to a total effective sentence of thirteen years of incarceration (upwards up thirty-three years if he violated probation). Approximately one year after conviction, the petitioner sought downward modification of his sentence, claiming it was inappropriate and disproportionate.

In front of the Sentence Review Division (Division), counsel for the petitioner argued that his client was of good moral character. He highlighted the petitioner’s substantial consecutive work history and lack of a criminal history prior to this incident. Therefore, counsel stated that a ten-year sentence was proper. The State, however, objected to modification, noting “both the seriousness of the offense and the ample evidence to convict.” In addition, the State argued that emergency personnel could have been injured as a result of the fire intentionally set by the defendant.

Pursuant to the Connecticut Practice Book § 43-23 et seq., the Division has authority to modify sentences only upon a showing that they are:

[I]nappropriate or disproportionate in light of the nature of the offense, the character of the offender, the protection of the public interest and the deterrent, rehabilitative, isolative and denunciatory purposes for which the sentence was intended.

The court that originally sentenced the defendant characterized the defendant’s actions as a “two-part crime; the torching of the home and the bilking of the insurance company.” Such conduct was “part of a dastardly overall scheme of personal greed.” The Division credited the defendant’s fortune that no one was injured during this incident, but nonetheless agreed that the sentence was neither inappropriate nor disproportionate.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

What Is a ‘Legal Separation’ in Connecticut?

A legal separation is a status that affects the legal rights and obligations spouses have toward each other without formally ending the marriage.  A court decree of legal separation has many of the same effects as a divorce; assets and liabilities will be divided and, if there are children involved, a parenting plan will be implemented as in a divorce proceeding.  Legally separated spouses are freed from most legal obligations, and give up most legal rights, to each other but remain legally married.  Accordingly, neither spouse can remarry without first having the separation decree converted into one for divorce.

If you have any questions related to divorce and legal separations in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Pre-Nups are for More than Just the Wealthy

A Prenuptial agreement is an agreement between two individuals planning to get married on how property will be distributed on the possibility of their separation. While no one likes to imagine separating at such an exciting time as just before marriage, if you have extensive assets, it must be considered.

Individuals with high wealth and those who are getting married later in life have often accrued a significant number of assets that it would be difficult to part with in the unfortunate event that their marriage did not work out. Entrepreneurs with established businesses could also find it beneficial to protect their enterprise by using a prenuptial agreement to ensure that business assets remain with them in the event of a break up.

For people who have been married before, or who have kids from a previous relationship, prenuptial agreements are much more common because they have already experienced a divorce and know how messy property division and child custody issues can be. Prenuptial agreements are also more common for marriages where one of the parties has inherited or will inherit a large sum of money.

When executing such an agreement, an attorney is necessary to complete the process correctly. While courts in Connecticut will enforce a prenuptial agreement, it must meet some very strict guidelines or a court may completely disregard it. Some of these guidelines include full disclosure of assets, a signed document in writing, and for each party to have individual professional representation. Such guidelines ensure fairness and efficiency of the process so no spouse is left in the dark upon divorce.

If you are considering a pre-nup or need to have one enforced upon divorce, contact one of the experienced divorce attorneys at Maya Murphy today. Our attorneys have worked countless divorce and family law cases in the courts of Connecticut and New York for decades. Get the answers you need and the representation you deserve. Call 203-221-3100 or email JMaya@mayalaw.com to schedule a consultation today!

Protecting Your Interests in a High-Asset Divorce

Whether or not you consider yourself a high earner or a high worth individual, if you have considerable assets at stake and divorce is knocking at the door, we are here to help. At Maya Murphy, we deal with divorces every day, whether they include athletes, businesses, famous individuals, those with large amounts of wealth or just the average person. Our divorce practice has been established for over a decade and is built on experience gained in both New York and Connecticut tribunals. We can help you take proactive steps to position yourself for a fair allocation. Not every high-asset divorce is destined for trial. We will explore mediation to resolve or narrow the issues and out-of-court negotiations for everything from IRA, 401(k) and pension savings and alimony to child custody and child support. However, if needed, the high asset divorce attorneys of Maya Murphy are proven litigators who are ready and able to bring a case to trial.

When it comes to high asset divorce, there are many more factors that must be considered when reaching an appropriate settlement. Here at Maya Murphy, we are familiar with every nuance of high net worth divorces, including:

  • Valuation of a business or professional license
  • Valuation and sale/refinancing of the marital home
  • Valuation and division of investment property
  • Other real estate (vacation homes, rental property)
  • Variable or seasonal income, as from pro athletes
  • Verification of income from all sources
  • Stock options and deferred compensation
  • The marital portion of IRA, 401(k) and pension savings
  • Validity (enforceability) of prenuptial agreements
  • Other issues of separate property versus marital property
  • Distribution of joint liabilities, and
  • Discovering hidden assets.

We realize there are additional considerations in a high-asset divorce beyond the division of assets such as privacy of the individuals, goodwill of a business, or unwanted media attention. We can cater our representation to your needs and your busy schedule. At the onset of representation, we will listen to your goals and come up with a plan to best achieve them. You will be kept informed each step of the way and involved in this process as little or as much as you would like.

So if you are considering divorce, or divorce proceedings have already begun, feel free to contact the high asset divorce group at Maya Murphy today to discuss your options. We are available anytime at 203-222-MAYA or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com. Schedule your free consultation today!

Common Ways Spouses Attempt to Hide Assets Upon Divorce

Divorce is likely one of the worst times of a persons life, or best if you can’t wait to get out of a miserable relationship. But one thing is for sure, divorces get messy. Too often they turn into drawn out court battles, custody disputes, or the worst of all, one spouse hiding assets from the other. We have all heard the phrases “I was cleaned out after my divorce,” or “my spouse took everything” in the divorce, and although its far from the legal truth, too many people believe this and try to protect their assets by hiding them. Not only is hiding assets from someone you previously loved immoral, it is also highly illegal. Even so, discovering hidden assets is something our divorce group, specifically our high asset divorce group, does regularly. Here are just some of the ways in which we have discovered individuals attempting to hide assets from their spouses. This list is meant to aid spouses from being outed in divorce, not aid the illegal hiding of such assets.

1. Transfer assets to a separate account. This involves taking money from a joint bank and brokerage accounts and transferring it to an account only in one spouses name.

2. Transfer assets to a friend. In a joint bank or brokerage account, both parties have full control over the assets.
Some people systematically transfer cash and/or investments to an account their friend holds, and then once the divorce is finalized, that friend transfers it back to them.

3. Overpay the Internal Revenue Service. Some individuals who know they are going to file for divorce next year instruct the IRS to use this year’s refund for next year’s tax. Once the divorce is final, they receive a large overpayment from IRS that they use against future tax.

4. Take cash withdrawals on debit cards. Some people use debit cards for every day purchases. When you use a debit card, you are always asked if you would like cash back. In this instance, the individuals continually answer yes to that question and withdraw small sums of money multiple times over a long period of time. Here, the actions are hidden because the total charge shows as groceries, clothes, movies, etc.

5. Turn down promotions and raises. Some people tell their boss to delay any promotions (if one is coming) and set any raises/bonuses aside until after it was finalized.

6. Accrue commissions. After closing deals at work, some spouses request that their commission is delayed for tax purposes, i.e. hiding it from their spouse in divorce.

If your spouse owns their own business, they could also be using some of the below techniques to hide income from you:

8. Not invoice clients. It wouldn’t be difficult to delay invoicing clients until after the divorce. Although accounts receivables would be accrued assets, this is easier to hide than cold hard cash.

9. Create fake expenses. Creating fake expenses, paying fake vendors, and adding family or friends to the payroll is a common way for individuals to hide money through their business.

10. Go on a shopping spree. This is self explanatory.

If you think your spouse is hiding assets, or you are worried they might try to when you ask for a divorce, call one of the experienced divorce attorneys at Maya Murphy today. With decades of experience in both the New York and Connecticut courts, one of our attorneys can help you with any divorce or family law matter you may have. Call 203-222-MAYA or email JMaya@mayalaw.com to schedule a consultation today!

Credit: Asset hiding techniques to divorcenet.com

What Is the Mandatory Parenting Education Program in Connecticut?

The parenting education program is a program designed to assist parents in helping their children through the divorce.  The class addresses the developmental stages of children, the adjustment by children to parental separation, and dispute resolution and conflict management.  The class also addresses guidelines for visitation, cooperative parenting, and stress reduction.

If you have any questions related to divorce in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

How Much Will a Divorce Cost in Connecticut?

It is not possible to determine out the outset how much a divorce will cost, and each case necessarily will be different.  There are, however, certain set fees associated with bringing a divorce action, including a $350 fee to file a complaint and $50 for service of the court papers.  Spouses with children are required to attend a parenting class, the fee for which is $125.  Other fees may be incurred for filing a counterclaim, for example, or for publishing a notice of the action in a newspaper, if the plaintiff cannot locate her spouse.  Many attorneys and experts involved litigating a divorce action charge hourly rates that can vary, sometimes widely.  These rates and the amount of time a lawyer must spend working on the matter will determine the ultimate cost for a divorce proceeding.

If you have any questions related to divorce in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Should I Consider Mediating my Divorce in Connecticut?

Mediation is a less formal process than litigation where the parties select a neutral third party to help them forge compromises and, if successful, ultimately reach a final separation agreement that deals with the financial, custody and other issues involved in a divorce.  Unlike litigation, mediation is akin to a settlement negotiation and is both confidential and not binding on the parties.  The mediator does not represent either party in the mediation, does not provide them with legal advice, and does not decide issues.  Rather, the mediator provides the parties with information, and helps them to identify and address the relevant issues and to bridge their differences.  If the mediation is not successful, the parties may then litigate the action.  If the mediation is successful and parties reach a final separation agreement, that agreement will be binding, once the marriage is dissolved by a court.

If you have any questions related to divorce in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.